The 2020 Mid-American Conference Basketball Tournament was officially cancelled on Thursday afternoon, marking the end of a strange week for MAC basketball in Cleveland, Ohio.
“We have been meeting all morning with our directors of athletics, with our presidents, talking about what is the appropriate path forward,” Mid-American Conference commissioner Dr. Jon Steinbrecher said at a press conference Thursday. “We’ve also been paying attention to what is going on around us both in the world at large and the sports world, and as you started to see this morning, you’ve seen another — a number of conferences have made the decision to cancel. We have come to the same conclusion and we are cancelling our event.”
Commissioner’s opening statement. pic.twitter.com/x38vc0JvKu— Hustle Belt (@HustleBelt) March 12, 2020
The conference had been preparing for business as usual on Thursday morning, with teams in the men’s bracket engaging in shootarounds starting at 10:39 a.m., before mailing out a media advisory at 11:06 a.m., indicating the start Akron-Ohio game would be pushed back to 1 p.m. as a precaution, and that a press conference would be held at 12 p.m. with more information.
About 1:20 from tip-off in Cleveland. Ball State on the court for shoot around. No more than 50 people in the arena right now. pic.twitter.com/TdEyFrURVt— Hustle Belt (@HustleBelt) March 12, 2020
Steinbrecher indicated they were ready to go as of this morning, but the situation was “fluid” all morning and made the decision to cancel after consulting with the various athletic directors and presidents of the MAC.
They are walking several service dogs around Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse right now. Could they be Coronavirus sniffing dogs? Or, are they here to calm our anxiety? pic.twitter.com/Kzz2rZsHdT— Hustle Belt (@HustleBelt) March 12, 2020
The situation had accelerated after the MAC’s previous announcement of restricting access to Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on Tuesday afternoon, with the World Health Organization declaring COVID-19 (also known as coronavirus) a pandemic, and NBA stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell testing positive for the virus.
The Utah Jazz had played at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse within the last 10 days, and several teams who had played the Jazz over the past week have been advised to self-quarantine.
“... The timeline obviously with the affected player with the Jazz, from what we’re understanding based on incubation period and actually where symptoms appear and given the length of time from when the Jazz were in town, which was March 2nd, until when last night occurred, would suggest that the risk was very low that the affected player actually had contracted it and had that while he was in Cleveland,” Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse CEO Len Korowski explained during Thursday’s press conference.
Korowski also explained there had been five events in between the game with the Jazz and the start of the MAC tournament, and that his staff had taken extra steps to ensure the arena was properly sanitized and the proper preventative measures were taken, such as closing down the locker room the Jazz had used the week prior.
The conference allowed all eight of the women’s teams to play in their tournament games on Wednesday under the previous restrictions, but the situation had risen to the point where teams were uneasy with continuing.
“Part of the reason that we started to implement a delay [on Thursday morning] and we were starting to begin those, our schools have been doing various checks anyway,” Steinbrecher said. “But we were implementing a little more formalized health check... as well [having] the athletics director or designee visit individually with each student-athlete and ask whether they were comfortable competing or not. So we had the students to have a voice to continue in this on whether or not they wanted to continue.”
Steinbrecher said the discussions regarding the potential suspension of spring sports will begin over the next couple days as news continues to flow in, and told assembled media if the NCAA tournament does go on as scheduled, the regular season champions (Akron for the men’s side, Central Michigan for the women’s side) would be the automatic qualifiers.
The men’s tournament had not tipped off prior to the cancellation, but Kent State, the three-seed, was the highest remaining seed on the women’s side after CMU and Ball State were both upset on Wednesday afternoon. Kent State, Eastern Michigan, Toledo and Ohio were set to play in the MAC semifinals on Friday.
This is a developing story, and will be updated as we receive more information.